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Memphis One Step from Moving On

Apparently, home court didn’t matter much in this series after all. After struggling to keep up with the Memphis Grizzlies on the road in the first two games of the best-of-seven series, the Portland Trailblazers seemed sure to be able to tighten things up a bit after taking the series back home to Oregon. That wasn’t the case in game three, as the Grizzlies won the game 115-109 after staving off a late Blazers rally.

The Blazers are now within one loss of going on vacation for the summer, and what’s even worse for Portland is how it ended up this way. In the games in Memphis, it was all about Mike Conley and the Grizzlies hounding Damian Lillard, forcing him to give the ball up or to miss a bad shot. Without a quality scoring guard on the court next to him, the Grizz felt extremely comfortable with attacking Lillard when he had the ball, forcing him into tough or bad shots and keeping him from being a factor in the outcome.

But things were looking better for Portland back at home. The Blazers got Arron Afflalo back from injury, recreating one of the more efficient scoring lineups the Blazers had all season with Lillard, Afflalo, Nicholas Batum, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Robin Lopez. Lillard also answered the bell, coming up with by far his best game of the series, playing 41 minutes and scoring 22 points on 9/17 shooting from the field with 8 assists.

But unfortunately, Afflalo was a non-factor. He scored just five points in 27 minutes of play, leaving Lillard with only C.J. McCollum to rely on (who surprisingly delivered with 23 points, making the loss sting all the more). Aldridge didn’t help things much, one again, as he shot just 6/18 from the field while compiling his usual 20 points and seven rebounds. As was the case in the first two games, it seemed as though the Blazers trailed the entire game, falling behind by five after the first quarter and thirteen at half-time.

On the Grizzlies side of it, it was another impressive win for a team looking to move on to the second round and take on the hot Golden State Warriors. Memphis had five players score in double figures and nine players play 16 minutes or more. Only Marc Gasol played over 35 minutes in game three for the Grizzlies, as it seemed that coach David Joerger feels comfortable enough with the guys on his bench to only have Conley on the court for 26 or Zach Randolph for 32 minutes.

The Blazers, on the flip side of it, do not have the depth that Memphis does. They essentially have a seven-man rotation, with spot minutes from Steve Blake and Meyers Leonard mixed in there as well. Aldridge, Batum, and Lillard all played over 40 minutes, and Aldridge and Lillard struggled down the stretch to help the Blazers catch up. They shot just 2/7 combined in the final quarter, with Lillard only scoring two points on a late layup. If you’re expecting to win playoff games at home, you’re going to need more from your star players than that during crunch time.

Everything seemed to work for Memphis, though, and they proved to be too much for the Blazers yet again. The Grizz got 25 points from Gasol, 20 from Courtney Lee, 16 from Randolph, 14 from Conley, and 13 from reserve guard Nick Calathes, who had only scored two points total in the first two games of the series. Everywhere the Grizzlies have turned, they’ve either answered what Portland has thrown at them or they’re already been one step ahead.

And now Memphis is just one step from their showdown with the Warriors. They’ve done a good job limiting players from playing heavy minutes and getting ready for what is to come. I won’t get too excited looking forward, as there is still at least one more game to play in this series. However, Portland got Afflalo back and got a good game out of Damian Lillard, and still lost. I’m not sure what else they can do to steal a game in this series.

I’m not sure they know either.

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